Local SEO Opportunities for Small Business

10 03 2011

Each month our agency holds a free search engine marketing seminar geared towards small business owners in the Portland, OR area. Last night our seminar was on Local SEO. I wanted to provide an overview at the beginning of the presentation regarding the number of small businesses in the US (and globally) and compare that to the number of businesses that have actually claimed/verified their Google Place page. The numbers are scary. Small business owners aren’t focusing on local SEO as much as they should. I feel this could be for a couple of reasons:

  • Google isn’t putting enough effort to market this to small business owners, and they are doing even less in terms of support – Google has gotten better at trying to cater to small businesses and give them resources for local SEO, but it obviously isn’t enough as the lack of claimed Google Place pages clearly shows
  • SMBs don’t have the resources/time to put forth the effort it can take to claim and manage their local online presence

So, to the numbers.

  • I’ve seen reported that anywhere from 20%-40% of all searches have local intent
  • Back in June 2010 the Big 3 search engines tallied about 15 Billion searches per month
    • Google – 10.1 Billion
    • Yahoo – 2.9 Billion
    • Bing – 1.9 Billion
  • If 20% of these searches had local intent, that would mean roughly 3 Billion searches each month

Folks, that’s a lot of searches where users are looking to purchase a product/service in the very near future. At a very broad level, roughly one-third of searchers will walk into a brick and mortar location after performing a local search. That’s a huge opportunity for sales.

Now I want to lay out the landscape of small businesses in the US. Most SMBs are not taking advantage of local search, so based on the info above, they’re also missing out on a lot of potential sales.

  • There are roughly 25 Million small businesses in the US
  • About 2 Million have actually claimed their Google Place page

You can do the math on this one. There is huge opportunity for SMBs to take advantage of Local SEO. Now, there are some industries that have jumped all over this, such as locksmiths, plumbers, hotels, restaurants and some others, but the majority of these are all in major cities. If you’re an SMB in a less populous region, you may have the opportunity to claim your page and receive excellent visibility/traffic due to the lack of competition.

If you’re looking to claim your Place page and increase your local visibility, there are some resources that you can utilize to get started, like Google Place help and David Mihm’s local ranking factors. These resources should help you understand what is important in local SEO, as well as how to get started. Additionally, you can view the Formic Media Local SEO presentation (yes, self promotion alert).

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7 SEM Trends for 2011

8 02 2011

After spending the last month reading list after list making SEM predictions for 2011 I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.  When you truly look at predicting anything, the best case scenario is you’re right and the worst case scenario, well at least you made an effort.  So, without further ado, here are my top 7 SEM predictions for 2011:

1.  Above the Fold Content Becomes Less Crucial

One of the biggest things to take away from the infographic craze is that users are willing to scroll if you have engaging content.  Virtually every mouse has a scroll feature; create amazing content so I want to use it.



2.  HTML5 and CSS3 Will Begin to Go Mainstream

The general population is afraid of change.  Most tech people are early adopters and embrace change.  Now we just need the people building sites for clients that are still using IE6 to let them do it the right way.  Listen to Smashing and start using HTML 5 and CSS3 today.

3.  The Death of Foursquare: As big players integrate location-based services better, the smaller pioneers will fade.

Let me start by saying I’ve never been into letting people know where I’m at so they can go to my house and kidnap my dog while I’m out drinking.  Therefore, I may not be the authority on any this issue.  However, I do hate having to juggle four different apps in order to let everyone know what I’m having for dinner, where I’m having it, that I just became the Mayor and that I checked in to save 20% on appetizers.

4.  Google’s Disdain for RSS Will Continue to Grow

With rumors already swirling about Google moving resources away from Google Reader, it’s likely that support for RSS will fade overall.  Personally, I used to be into RSS as it’s an excellent way to keep abreast to the latest news and industry blogs, however that all went away when Twitter became my professional social vehicle and Facebook became my personal social vehicle.  Using Twitter and using it right helps to filter out all the fluff and only read content that is valued by people who know more than I do.

5.   Blekko Will Become an Important FREE Tool for SEO Professionals

Blekko has already made efforts to supply SEO data to users.  I think the next step in the process is to allow the data to be exported and manipulated.  Stay Tuned…

6.  Local Search Will Drive More Customers to Brick & Mortar Stores

Yelp reported that in December of 2010 35% of all searches on Yelp.com came from a mobile app. Please take into account that this number doesn’t even include the people who go directly to the site through their mobile browser instead of using the app.  People are searching locally and on the go because they want to spend locally.  Looking at Google’s shift towards local content only reinforces the fact.

7.  Customer Reviews Will Take Center Stage

One of the biggest obstacles working with companies that are just now jumping on the local bandwagon is that it’s difficult to get an influx of reviews.  As local businesses begin to optimize for local search, expect to be asked to review a business more and more as you’re walking out the door with your lunch.

In the end, there were a million different predictions I could have thrown out there. Check back next year and we’ll see how I did.

 

What are your thoughts/predictions for 2011 and beyond?





Google Boost Gets Its Launch

25 01 2011

Back in October we took a look at announcements about Place Search and Google Boost, and the impact they could potentially have on small businesses.  While it was initially rolled out to a few select cities, Google has just revealed today that Boost ads will now appear in search results across all U.S. cities to select businesses.  By logging in to your Google Places account, you can see if you are eligible.

Once you log-in, there is a very simple process to creating your ads – you write the ad description, destination page, select which categories you would like to appear, and set a budget.  If you already have an AdWords account, Google can find billing information already on file.  Here is what a sample ad looks like:

Google Boost

Image from Google.

Boost ads will appear in Google and Google Maps search results, and can access important performance data in the same Places dashboard you currently have.  Also revealed today was that Google Boost ads will show up in mobile searches for iPhone and Android phones, greatly expanding your potential reach.





Google Hotpot Chooses Portland

10 12 2010

I assume you are reading this blog post to first find out what in the world Google Hotpot is. Well, it’s just another installment from Google in their quest to rule the universe. This particular product is very social in nature as you essentially receive recommendations from friends on places they’ve visited and reviewed. The more you review businesses and use Hotpot, the more recommendations you’ll receive.

As a user, I don’t get it

Frankly, I don’t get it. Google already allows you to personalize results when you log in to your Google account and commence the searching process. Furthermore, Google Maps allows you to review Places through its Google Places product. I understand that Hotpot will provide recommendations based on what your friends have rated, but I feel it’s rather unnecessary at this point. It seems like an extra step that some may find useful, but for me, I’ll pass for now. I imagine Google has much bigger plans for Hotpot, and what we’re seeing may be the tip of the iceberg, but at this point, I’m not buying. I can get recommendations from friends via social media apps/sites like Foursquare, Yelp and Facebook Places already. Why add another one to the mix that doesn’t offer up anything new?

As a marketer, this sounds interesting

Even though I’m not a huge fan as a user, I do like how Google is marketing the new product. As a marketer myself, I must take note and appreciate the thought and effort behind the launch. Google is debuting Hotpot in Portland, OR, which I reside, so it’s exciting to me to see how users and businesses react to the new product. Google is starting with local businesses that are already highly rated and reviewed. They will provide these businesses with marketing materials to help drive customer reviews (and get businesses to claim their Place pages if they haven’t yet). Some of the marketing materials being provided are window stickers, business cards, pens and even fortune cookies. Google even plans to buy local newspaper and billboard space to promote this new product.

If you’re a local business (especially in Portland), perk up and do what you can to try to get in on this new product. Reviews play a large role in how you rank in the Google local search results, so the more you can market your business and get folks to review you, the potential for increasing your local rankings rises as well. Plus, if you can get kitschy marketing materials from Google for free, it can only help increase conversations at your establishment as customers will ask what it is for. This provides a great opportunity for the business owner/employee to ask the customer to review their experience.

How to get in on the Hotpot fun

In order to start making Hotpot work for your business, you first need to have a claimed (and verified) Google Place page. If you haven’t done this yet, your slightly behind, so get on it (or contact us and we can help). Next, you’ll need to submit this form to obtain your marketing kit (unless Google has already contacted you…Voodoo Doughnuts, I’m looking at you). After you receive your marketing kit, or even before, start talking to your customers about it. Try to educate the repeat customers (since they’re obviously already fans) so they leave reviews either on your Google Place page, or even start using Hotpot.

I’d love to hear what others think of Hotpot from either a user’s perspective or a marketer’s.





Google Puts Spotlight on Location with New Boost & Place Search

28 10 2010

This blog has certainly been no stranger to the importance of Google Places, its useful connection to AdWords, and the importance of building relevant citations to improve your local rankings.  Local search engine optimization is incredibly powerful for small businesses to increase their visibility online and foot-traffic to their brick and mortal locations.  Well Google just keeps on rolling, introducing two new features in the past two days that will place an even greater emphasis on Local SEO.

Place Search

Yesterday Google announced the release of Place Search, a new and easier way to find local businesses.  Before, searchers had to either look through the coveted 7-Pack above organic search results to find a Place listing, or click-through to Google Maps and compare listings along the left-hand side.  The new Place Search however, is a hybrid of the two:

  • The 7-pack is now gone and local results are now included in the main results section.
  • The results themselves are richer and include an image, description, address, phone number, Sitelinks, a brief review quote, and links to 3rd party review sites.
  • To the right of each listing is an average rating, number of reviews, and a link to its Place Page.
  • The results map is now displayed on the far right and floats along as you scroll up or down on the page.
  • Organic results are now pushed all the way to the bottom and only show 4-6 results instead.

Small Business Impact

These changes will most likely influence the way sites handle Local SEO.  Overall Place Search will make it even more important for small businesses to claim and fully optimize their Place Pages:

  • It is critical that you continue to seek reviews because these are highlighted the most on the new search results.  Get reviews not only for your Place Page, but 3rd party sites like Yelp and Citysearch as well.
  • Always be looking to build citations, especially relevant local websites in your area.
  • Ensure your site is optimized for your location and includes relevant keywords within the title tags, meta descriptions, and throughout content.
  • Because Sitelinks appear, be sure to access your site’s Google Webmaster Tools account and specify any pages you don’t want included (Google will generate Sitelinks automatically and exclude ones you specify).

Google Boost

On Monday, Google announced the testing of a new advertising solution specifically designed for Google Place Pages.  Boost is designed as a quick and easy way to create search ads right from their own Google Places account that will appear in the Sponsored Links section of either the main Google search page or Google Maps.  These ads can include the ever important NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number), average rating, and display the number of reviews you have received.  Boost ads will also be highlighted by a blue pin.

Google Boost

Boost ads will be easy to set up.  All you need is an ad description, a link to either your website or Place Page, relevant business categories, and a monthly budget.  Once the ad is complete, no ongoing management is required.  Google will optimize your budget for the most relevant keywords that can trigger the ad.  And just like AdWords, you only pay per click.  While this program is being tested only in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, business owners can sign up to receive alerts of when it will be available in their area.

It is almost certain that Place Search will tie in with the new Boost solution, Google Tags for Place Pages, or even AdWords location extensions.  Put all these tools together and there is great potential for small businesses to reach out and find new customers.








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